India currently occupy the mantle of the number one Test team in the world, knocking off Pakistan in October 2016, but debate continues to rage around the world as to who truly is the best Test team. No country has been the clear number one since South Africa lost their place at the top of the rankings table in January 2016 after their home series defeat to England.
While the South Africans were clearly the best side in world cricket, especially due to their impeccable record of not having lost an away series for nine years, they didn’t dominate that position like the Australians before them.
A strong case can be made that the Virat Kohli led Indian team are thoroughly deserving of their place at the top of the tree and are clearly the best side in the world today. Kohli’s men have gone a national record 19 Test matches unbeaten, including 15 wins. While the majority of this streak has been achieved in favourable home conditions, or at least in Asian conditions, it is the nature of India’s home victories that sets them apart from the rest of the competition. This Indian side are ruthlessly dismantling quality opposition and dominating matches at home in a manner reminiscent of the all-conquering Australians of the 2000s.
At present most countries are struggling to win away from home, such is the evenness of Test cricket nowadays. This makes winning at home, and the manner of victory at home, even more important when it comes to debating who the best team in the world is. Everyone is struggling abroad, so who is the best at home? Well right now, that would be India. No other team has been as dominant and dismissive of the challenges thrown their way by visiting teams.
In 21 Test matches at home since the start of December 2012 India have won 17, including a 4-0 whitewash over Australia, a 4-0 series win over England, and a 3-0 victory over then number one team South Africa. Of those 17 wins, five have been innings victories, another four have been won by 6 wickets or more, and another four by more than 200 runs, of which two were victories of more than 300 runs.
Australia, currently ranked number two in the world, have always been a formidable opponent in their own backyard and had not lost a home series in five years until their recent 1-2 series loss to South Africa. As the series result shows the Australians are in a rebuilding phase and are not the dominant force they once were.
South Africa, the most recent team to lay claims to being the obvious number one team in the world, a claim that was built on the back of an unbelievable away record, have not been as dominant at home, winning only 14 of 22 Test matches since December 2012. They lost the Test mace after losing to England in their 2015/16 home season.
England have consistently been one of the top four sides in world cricket, yet with a winning percentage at home of just 57 percent their home record does not stack up in comparison to current world number one India.
Playing Pakistan in the UAE has always been a daunting task for touring sides, but despite their fearsome reputation Pakistan’s winning percentage at their home away from home is only 56 percent from 16 Tests since December 2012. They recently slumped to a shock loss at home to the lowly West Indies, albeit in a dead rubber.
So while India’s dominance at home guarantees they hold a sizeable lead over the chasing pack (11 ratings points) there are still some lingering doubts over their ability to perform outside Asia.
For India to truly be the best Test side in the world and end the debate they will have to rectify what is an abysmal recent record away from home. India remains humiliated from their back to back 0-4 thrashings in England and Australia in 2011 and 2012 and while they managed to win one Test on their subsequent tour to England, they still failed to win a Test in Australia the next time they toured. India’s recent record in South Africa and New Zealand isn’t much better, failing to win a game on their most recent tours.
While those series featured different personnel, and a vastly different leadership style under MS Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher, the results still haunt India and are used in any argument to debate India’s merit and worthiness of the Test mace.
Under the captaincy of Virat Kohli, and with Anil Kumble as head coach, this new Indian team has looked to be hungrier and more aggressive than its previous incarnation under MS Dhoni. Kohli has shown a willingness to risk losing in an attempt to win matches, and has stated how important it is to win as many Test matches as possible rather than accept draws.
Kohli is also willing to back his players, especially his much maligned bowlers, more than Dhoni. It is these bowlers, led by Ravi Ashwin and Mohammad Shami that will be key to India having success overseas and putting to bed any debate over the number one ranking.
India’s batsmen, led by Kohli, have shown they are capable of scoring runs all over the world, but it has always been the bowling and inability to take 20 wickets that has cost India time and time again when playing abroad. Ashwin in particular has struggled outside Asia but there are signs that he is learning the patience and skill required to take wickets and not concede runs in less helpful conditions.
India’s fast bowling remains it’s biggest weakness, and without improvement it will once again be exposed in conditions where the quicker men will have to shoulder the workload rather than relying on two or three spinners to bowl most of the overs. Shami has shown that he is capable of stepping up and leading India’s attack, but he will need more support from the likes of Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ishant Sharma.
While India are showing signs that they could replicate their recent home success in foreign conditions the debate over who is the best team in world cricket will continue to rage until they manage to win series overseas. Their next Test assignment outside Asia isn’t until December when they tour South Africa, so we will have to wait for them to set the record straight away from home.
For now India will look to continue their dominance in India in the highly anticipated upcoming series against Australia to round out what has been a successful home season so far for the world’s best team.